How to Clean Your Toaster the Right Way

No matter how deep and abiding your love of avocado toast, you have to admit that the cleanup is crumby. Pop-up toasters are simple machines, but they’re also mini escape rooms for bread crusts and stray poppyseeds, which inevitably get stuck inside and burn, making your everything bagel taste char-grilled. That could be one reason a recent study found that just toasting bread raised the measurable amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), aka indoor air pollution, to higher-than-expected levels.

“Toasters and toaster ovens are the most infuriating small kitchen appliances to clean,” says Melissa Maker, cleaning expert and host of YouTube channel Clean My Space. “They’re very good at capturing debris,” but not easy to access.” Still, because they get pretty steady use, and can be a fire hazard otherwise, regular cleaning is a must.

Your first step, always, is to unplug your toaster. Then, locate the crumb tray. “A lot of people don’t know this exists, and when you find it for the first time, it is truly an ‘aha’ moment,” Maker says. Look for a raised edge or lip toward one side of the toaster—if you can hook a finger under it and pull it out, that’s your tray. You should be able to fully remove it, empty it in the garbage, rinse it in the sink and dry thoroughly before replacing. Do this once a week, she advises.

Now look inside the toaster’s guts. You’ll see heating coils, probably covered in crumbs. “They’re very good at capturing debris,” says Maker. Swipe a dry toothbrush or bottle cleaning brush around those coils to loosen things up, then upend the toaster and tap it gently to shake out the crumbs and other debris you freed. If you’re really determined, you can use a can of compressed air, the kind they make for cleaning computer keyboards, to get into the crevices.

Return the toaster to its upright position. The interior should be pretty clean, save some melted cheese from an ill-thought-out asiago roll (you can try scraping it off with a butter knife but Maker’s attitude in these cases is that prevention is the best approach.)

For jammy fingerprints and smudges on a stainless steel exterior*, Maker recommends mixing equal parts baking soda and dish soap (you could also try two parts cream of tartar to one part lemon juice), applying it with a sponge, then wiping it off. This will “loosen gunky buildup” and restore shine. When cleaning the top of the toaster you’ll want to use just a small amount of plain white vinegar on a cloth so it doesn’t drip down into the heating elements. Do this roughly once a month, and your machine will be the toast of the town.

*If your toaster happens to be enamel or plastic, proceed with caution since baking soda is a tiny bit abrasive and test in a hidden area first.

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